March 31, 2011

1964: Eagles Trade Sonny Jurgensen to Redskins for Norm Snead

Following the 1963 NFL season, the Philadelphia Eagles began a transformation under a new owner, Jerry Wolman, and a new head coach/GM, Joe Kuharich. Having finished at the bottom of the Eastern Conference in both 1962 and ’63, Kuharich decided that a housecleaning was in order. The first major deal was the trade of popular star flanker Tommy McDonald to the Dallas Cowboys for a kicker and two backup linemen. If that wasn’t enough to shock Eagles fans, on March 31, 1964 he swung an even more significant trade, sending QB Sonny Jurgensen and CB Jimmy Carr to the Washington Redskins for QB Norm Snead and CB Claude Crabb.

Kuharich justified the deal by indicating that he was trading for youth - Snead and Crabb were 24, while Jurgensen was 29 and Carr was 31. Head Coach Bill McPeak of the Redskins looked at it from the other side. “Winning in 1964 is imperative. Jurgensen, at this stage of his career, is more advanced than Snead, and I think, with the right supporting cast, he can take you all the way.”

The 6’0”, 200-pound Jurgensen (pictured above) had been drafted by the Eagles out of Duke in the fourth round in 1957. After a promising rookie season, he sat on the bench for three years backing up veteran QB Norm Van Brocklin, who was obtained from the Rams in ’58. Van Brocklin led Philadelphia to the 1960 title and retired, and Jurgensen was thrust into the starting lineup. He responded with an outstanding season in 1961, setting a new NFL record for passing yards (3723) and also leading the league in touchdown passes (32). The Eagles nearly repeated as Eastern Conference champions, finishing a close second to the Giants.

However, in the ensuing Playoff Bowl against the Western Conference’s second-place team, the Detroit Lions, Jurgensen suffered a severe shoulder separation that hindered his performance the next season (and even beyond). While he again led the NFL with 3261 passing yards, he also threw a league-high 26 interceptions (as opposed to 22 TDs). The team was riddled by injuries and plummeted to the bottom with a 3-10-1 record. Jurgensen began to hear the boos from the disgruntled fans at Franklin Field.

During 1963 training camp, Jurgensen and backup QB King Hill walked out in a joint contract holdout. The dispute was resolved in short order by GM Vince McNally, but not without rancor, and Jurgensen hardly endeared himself to the organization. During the regular season, injuries limited him to nine games for the 2-10-2 club, and he threw for only 1413 yards with 11 touchdowns against 13 interceptions.

Still, dealing Jurgensen came as a surprise to fans, as well as to him - “I talked to Kuharich 10 days ago and we talked about a lot of things but he didn’t mention the trade or any other trade,” said the quarterback immediately after the deal was announced. “Sure, I was surprised.” (it was reported that he was first offered to the Vikings for Fran Tarkenton, but Van Brocklin, now coach in Minnesota, vetoed the trade). Jurgensen was considered one of the best pure passers in the NFL, with a strong and accurate arm. But while a flashy and exciting competitor, he also was known as an off-field carouser during his years in Philadelphia (he joked that “when I left Philadelphia, all the bartenders wore black armbands”).

The less colorful Norm Snead had been drafted by the Redskins in the first round in 1961 and started every game of his rookie season. At 6’4” and 215 pounds, and with a strong arm, he had the tools, but Washington was a dreadful team that ended up at the bottom with a 1-12-1 record – they only avoided a winless season by beating the second-year Dallas Cowboys in the finale.

While Snead took plenty of lumps, he also received credit as a rising talent. When the Redskins got off to a 4-0-2 start in 1962, he and flanker Bobby Mitchell, the ex-Cleveland halfback who had been obtained during the offseason, were the talk of the league. But the Giants exposed Washington’s weak pass defense in a 49-34 pounding at Yankee Stadium, Mitchell was slowed by an injury as well as increased coverage by defenses, and the Redskins finished at 5-7-2. The whispers were already beginning that the young quarterback didn’t seem to be improving, and the talk became louder (as well as boos from the fans) when the club went 3-11 in ’63 and Snead tossed a league-leading 27 interceptions.

As for the defensive backs that were almost afterthoughts in the trade, Carr had been with the Eagles since 1959, had started during the 1960 championship season, but was on the downside of his career (he lasted two years with the Redskins before retiring). In two years with the Redskins, Crabb, who had been a fullback and linebacker in college at Colorado, intercepted 9 passes, but was part of a much-maligned defensive backfield in Washington. Like Carr, he played two undistinguished years for the Eagles before departing for the Rams, where he lasted for three seasons in a reserve role.

Jurgensen played in Washington for 11 years, finally retiring at age 40 following the 1974 season. Along the way, he led the NFL in passing once, in passing yards three times (breaking his own record with 3747 yards in 1967), and completion percentage twice. He was a consensus first-team All-Pro selection in 1969 and was named to the Pro Bowl four times.

The Redskins were a mediocre team during his prime, however. While Bill McPeak might have hoped that Jurgensen would immediately lift the team to a winning record, Washington went 6-8 in both 1964 and ’65 and he was let go. Otto Graham, a former all-time great quarterback in his own right with the Browns, emphasized the passing game in three years as head coach that produced an overall 17-22-3 record. The arrival of Vince Lombardi in 1969 brought improvement (and Jurgensen responded with an outstanding year), with the team posting a 7-5-2 tally. However, Lombardi’s tenure was cut short when the legendary coach died of cancer just prior to the 1970 season – the last in which Jurgensen was the full-time starter. The Redskins were 6-8 under Bill Austin.

Washington’s fortunes improved with the coming of George Allen as head coach/GM in 1971, but it was Bill Kilmer primarily lining up behind center, not the increasingly-brittle Jurgensen. Still, the team went 10-2 in games that Jurgensen started during his last four years, a sign that he played well even if no longer often. At the time of his retirement, the paunchy redhead was the top-rated passer in NFL history - he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1983.

As for Norm Snead (pictured at left) and the Eagles, the road was far more rocky. After a fair year for a 6-8 club in 1964, Snead had a good season in 1965, passing for 2346 yards with 15 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, and earned selection to the Pro Bowl. He had his most productive statistical season in 1967, passing for 3399 yards and 29 TDs (as well as 24 interceptions). However, in between, he had a dreadful year in 1966 and was benched in favor of backups King Hill and Jack Concannon during the last month of the season – the Eagles finished 9-5 that year, their only winning record during Snead’s tenure with the team.

Following the big performance in 1967, Snead broke his leg in the first 1968 preseason game and returned to the starting lineup four weeks into a disastrous 2-12 campaign. Despite his late start, Snead led the NFL by being picked off 21 times. A new owner (Leonard Tose) fired Kuharich in favor of Jerry Williams, but Snead remained and the result was much the same as he again led the league in throwing interceptions (23).

After one more mediocre year in 1970, he was dealt to the Minnesota Vikings, where he split time with Gary Cuozzo in ‘71. It was on to the New York Giants in 1972, in the trade that brought Fran Tarkenton back to Minnesota. Snead led the NFC in passing for the 8-6 Giants, but fell back into his old ways, tossing a league-leading 22 interceptions against just seven TD passes in 1973. Midway through the ’74 season, he was traded once again, to the 49ers, and eventually returned to the Giants as a backup for his final season of 1976.

Lacking Sonny Jurgensen’s quick release and ability to read defenses, Snead was prone to making poor decisions that, as the record indicates, resulted in far too many interceptions. His lack of mobility also caused him to be sacked many times, and he was not a strong leader. He was relentlessly maligned by the frustrated Eagles fans and, during his time in Philadelphia, lived in the shadow of Jurgensen; as if it were not enough, in games between the Eagles and Redskins with Snead and Jurgensen facing off, Washington went 9-2-2 (the Eagles won a game against the Redskins in 1966 with King Hill at quarterback).

March 30, 2011

MVP Profile: Johnny Unitas, 1957

Quarterback, Baltimore Colts

Age: 24
2nd season in pro football & with Colts
College: Louisville
Height: 6’1” Weight: 190

Unitas was chosen in the 9th round of the 1955 NFL draft by the Steelers, but failed to make the team in the preseason. After playing semi-pro football, he was signed by the Colts to back up starting QB George Shaw. When Shaw went down with a broken kneecap four games into the ’56 season, Unitas got his chance, showed potential, and held onto the job.

1957 Season Summary
Appeared in all 12 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Attempts – 301 [1]
Most attempts, game – 37 at San Francisco 12/8
Completions – 172 [2]
Most completions, game – 23 at San Francisco 12/8
Yards – 2550 [1]
Most yards, game – 296 at San Francisco 12/8
Completion percentage – 57.1 [3]
Yards per attempt – 8.5 [2]
TD passes – 24 [1]
Most TD passes, game – 4 vs. Detroit 9/29, at Detroit 10/20
Interceptions – 17 [2]
Most interceptions, game – 3 vs. Detroit 9/29, vs. Pittsburgh 11/3
Passer rating – 88.0 [1](Ranked 3rd in system used at time)
200-yard passing games – 8

Attempts – 42
Yards – 171
Yards per attempt – 3.5
TDs – 1

TDs – 1
Points – 6

Awards & Honors:
1st team All-NFL: NEA
2nd team All-NFL: AP, UPI, NY Daily News
Pro Bowl

The Colts went 7-5 to finish third in the NFL Western Conference, contending throughout the season but finishing a game behind the leaders after losing their last two games on the West Coast.

The 1957 breakout season was just the beginning for Unitas. He led the Colts to back-to-back championships in 1958 and ’59, the first culminating in a sudden death classic against the Giants. Unitas was an outstanding play-caller as well as passer with a quick release and adept at throwing long, short, or in between. His 1957 season was part of a record 47-straight-game TD passing streak that ended in 1960. Unitas passed for 40,239 yards and 290 touchdowns in a career that extended until 1973. He was an MVP three more times, was named to 10 Pro Bowls, and selected to the NFL’s 75th Anniversary All-Time team. Unitas had his #19 retired by the Colts and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1979.


MVP Profiles feature players who were named MVP or Player of the Year in the NFL, AAFC (1946-49), AFL (1960-69), WFL (1974), or USFL (1983-85) by a recognized organization (Associated Press, Pro Football Writers Association, Newspaper Enterprise Association, United Press International, The Sporting News, Maxwell Club – Bert Bell Award, or the league itself).

[Updated 2/15/14]

March 29, 2011

Past Venue: Metropolitan Stadium

Bloomington, MN

Year opened: 1956
Capacity: 48,446, up from 18,000 at opening

Metropolitan Stadium, 1956-85

Pro football tenants:
Minnesota Vikings (NFL), 1961-81

Postseason games hosted:
NFL Western Conf. Championship, Vikings 23 Rams 20, Dec. 27, 1969
NFL Championship, Vikings 27 Browns 7, Jan. 4, 1970
NFC Divisional playoff, 49ers 17 Vikings 14, Dec. 27, 1970
NFC Divisional playoff, Cowboys 20 Vikings 12, Dec. 25, 1971
NFC Divisional playoff, Vikings 27 Redskins 20, Dec. 22, 1973
NFC Divisional playoff, Vikings 30 Cardinals 14, Dec. 21, 1974
NFC Championship, Vikings 14 Rams 10, Dec. 29, 1974
NFC Divisional playoff, Cowboys 17 Vikings 14, Dec. 28, 1975
NFC Divisional playoff, Vikings 35 Redskins 20, Dec. 18, 1976
NFC Championship, Vikings 24 Rams 13, Dec. 26, 1976

Other tenants of note:
Minneapolis Millers (minor league baseball), 1956-60
Minnesota Twins (MLB – AL), 1961-81
Minnesota Kicks (NASL), 1976-81

Notes: The NFL’s Chicago Cardinals hosted two regular season games at the stadium in 1959 and there were five NFL preseason games played there from 1956-60, prior to the debut of the Vikings. First pro football game held at stadium was a preseason game between the Steelers and Eagles on Sept. 15, 1956.

Fate: Demolished in 1985, the site is now occupied by the Mall of America.

March 27, 2011

MVP Profile: Marcus Allen, 1985

Running Back, Los Angeles Raiders

Age: 25
4th season in pro football & with Raiders
College: Southern California
Height: 6’2” Weight: 205

After winning the 1981 Heisman Trophy at USC, Allen was chosen by the Raiders in the first round of the ’82 draft. In the strike-shortened 1982 season, he led the NFL with 1098 yards from scrimmage, 14 TDs, and 84 points. He gained over a thousand yards rushing in each of the next two seasons, with a high of 1168 yards in ’84, when he again led the league in touchdowns with 18. He also was the MVP of the Super Bowl following the ’83 season, after rushing for 191 yards. Allen caught a total of 170 passes for 1749 yards in his first three years. He was a consensus first-team All-Pro in 1982 and was selected to the Pro Bowl twice.

1985 Season Summary
Appeared and started in all 16 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Attempts – 380 [2]
Most attempts, game - 31 (for 135 yds.) vs. Cincinnati 11/17
Yards – 1759 [1]
Most yards, game – 173 yards (on 24 carries) vs. Denver 11/24
Average gain – 4.6 [14]
TDs – 11 [3, tied with Ron Davenport, 1st in AFC]
100-yard rushing games - 11

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 67 [16, tied with Wes Chandler]
Most receptions, game – 8 (for 53 yds.) vs. San Francisco 9/22, (for 25 yds.) at LA Rams 12/23
Yards – 555
Most yards, game - 54 (on 6 catches) vs. Cincinnati 11/17
Average gain – 8.3
TDs - 3

Attempts – 2
Completions – 1
Yards – 16
TD passes – 0
Interceptions – 0

TDs – 14 [4]
Points – 84

Postseason: 1 G (AFC Divisional playoff vs. New England)
Rushing attempts – 22
Rushing yards – 121
Average gain rushing – 5.5
Rushing TDs – 1

Pass receptions – 3
Pass receiving yards - 8
Average yards per reception – 2.3
Pass Receiving TDs - 0

Awards & Honors:
NFL MVP: AP, PFWA, Sporting News
NFL Offensive Player of the Year: AP
1st team All-NFL: AP, PFWA, NEA, Sporting News
1st team All-AFC: UPI
Pro Bowl

Raiders went 12-4 to finish first in the AFC West with the best record in the conference. Lost Divisional playoff to New England Patriots (27-20).

Allen played another 12 years in the NFL, and went to the Pro Bowl again in 1986, ’87, and ’93, but never again ran for a thousand yards or caught more than 51 passes. Bothered by injuries (and involved in disputes with owner Al Davis), he shared time with other running backs during the remainder of his career with the Raiders, most notably Bo Jackson. Signing with the Chiefs as a free agent in 1993 reinvigorated his career at age 33, and he led the NFL with 12 rushing touchdowns. Allen retired in 1997 with 123 career touchdowns, as well as 12,243 rushing yards and 587 pass receptions for another 5412 yards. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2003.


MVP Profiles feature players who were named MVP or Player of the Year in the NFL, AAFC (1946-49), AFL (1960-69), WFL (1974), or USFL (1983-85) by a recognized organization (Associated Press, Pro Football Writers Association, Newspaper Enterprise Association, United Press International, The Sporting News, Maxwell Club – Bert Bell Award, or the league itself).

[Updated 2/15/14]
[Updated 11/28/14]

March 26, 2011

1985: Rams Sign CFL Star Dieter Brock

On March 26, 1985 the Los Angeles Rams announced the signing of QB Dieter Brock, an 11-year veteran of the Canadian Football League who had played out his option with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. It was reported that the 34-year-old Brock agreed to a four-year deal (three years plus option) with the Rams for $2.1 million.

The acquisition sealed the fate of Vince Ferragamo, who had himself signed a four-year contract extension with the Rams a year earlier. Ferragamo had come off the bench to lead LA to the Super Bowl in 1979 after starter Pat Haden went down with an injury, followed up with a 30-TD year in ’80, jumped to Montreal of the CFL in 1981, and, after performing poorly in Canada, returned to the Rams in ’82. He was inconsistent, but kept regaining the starting job, before going down for the year with a hand injury suffered in the third game of the 1984 season. Head Coach John Robinson made clear, in announcing Brock’s signing, that Ferragamo would be dealt.

While not guaranteed the starting job off the bat, Brock said “I just feel this is an excellent opportunity for me and I'm not afraid of competition. This is a dream come true.”

Brock’s 11 seasons in the CFL included the first 9 1/2 with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the last 1 1/2 with Hamilton. He was traded by Winnipeg to Hamilton during the ’83 season for QB Tom Clements after staging a series of walkouts in an effort to get out of his contract. His career numbers in the CFL were 2602 completions in 4535 attempts for 34,830 yards with 210 touchdowns and 158 interceptions; he led the CFL in passing four times and won the Schenley Award in 1980 and ’81 as the league’s MVP.

Brock, from Birmingham, Alabama, had backed up Heisman Trophy winner Pat Sullivan at Auburn before transferring to Jacksonville State. Sensing little interest from the NFL, he signed with Winnipeg before the NFL draft in 1974 (consequently, no team had prior rights to him).

Before signing with Los Angeles, Brock tried out with Buffalo, Green Bay, and Cleveland. Buffalo was rumored to have the inside track, especially since they were looking to replace 34-year-old Joe Ferguson (ironically, they ended up getting Ferragamo). The Packers reportedly made the highest offer, but were committed to veteran Lynn Dickey as the starter.

The club Brock was joining had made it to the postseason in 1984 as a wild card team with a 10-6 record (they lost in the first round). But while RB Eric Dickerson had performed brilliantly in his first two seasons, gaining a rookie-record 1808 yards in 1983 followed by a NFL record 2105 yards in ‘84, the team had not done well through the air. Young QB Jeff Kemp went 9-4 starting in place of Ferragamo, but the Rams ranked at the bottom of the NFC in passing offense.

Kemp was still with the team, as were the untested Scott Tinsley and veteran backup Steve Dils, but it was clear that the starting job was Brock’s to lose. While Coach Robinson preferred a run-oriented attack (going back to his years as a college coach at USC), he hoped that improving the passing game would, if nothing else, make Dickerson even more effective (he also expressed a desire to utilize the star runner, who had caught 51 passes in 1983 but only 21 in ’84, more often as a receiver out of the backfield).

The 1985 Rams, even with Dickerson holding out at the beginning of the season, won their first seven games and ended up at the top of the NFC West with an 11-5 record. Brock set a then-club record by completing 59.7 percent of his 365 passes for 2658 yards with 16 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. However, he played conservatively, rarely throwing long, and, even with one of the best offensive lines in the league in front of him, was sacked 51 times. The Rams still ranked low in passing yards.

In the postseason, Brock's performance was especially disappointing. While LA beat the Cowboys 20-0 in the Divisional round, it was primarily because of Dickerson rushing for 248 yards - Brock completed only 6 of 22 passes for 50 yards with an interception and no touchdowns. Playing for the NFC Championship against Chicago, Brock was successful on just 10 of 31 throws for 66 yards, again with one picked off and no TDs, and the Bears won handily, 24-0. Chicago Head Coach Mike Ditka remarked afterward that “I’m glad they didn’t play Jeff Kemp.”

Brock returned for the 1986 season, but back and knee injuries, the latter of which required surgery, kept him from playing. Steve Dils and veteran Steve Bartkowski, who had been obtained from the Falcons, handled the starting quarterback duties initially, but an early-season trade with Houston brought highly-touted rookie Jim Everett to the team, and he was the starter by the end of the year – and clearly the first choice to start going forward. Brock chose to retire.

Dieter Brock’s NFL career was brief and undistinguished, but he was recognized for his outstanding play in the CFL by being selected as one of the Top 20 All-Time Greats for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to mark the franchise’s 75th anniversary, and he was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1995.

March 25, 2011

1984: Walton Throws for 440 Yards as Breakers Beat Blitz in Overtime

The New Orleans Breakers of the United States Football League were riding a four-game winning streak to start the season as they hosted the winless Chicago Blitz on March 25, 1984 at the Louisiana Superdome. The Breakers, who had represented Boston in ’83 and played at little (capacity 20,535) Nickerson Field, had a much larger (capacity 69,658) and more luxurious venue in their second season, and were playing well. Unchanged were the head coach (Dick Coury) and starting quarterback (36-year-old John Walton, pictured above with WR Frank Lockett).

The Blitz were a transformed club, bearing little resemblance to the team of the same name that had been coached by George Allen in 1983. That team had moved to Arizona and was, for the most part, replaced by the former Arizona Wranglers franchise. Chicago had a new head coach, however, in Marv Levy and a veteran quarterback, Vince Evans, formerly of the NFL Bears.

There were 43,692 enthusiastic fans in attendance at the Superdome, and they saw the home team take a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. First, RB Marcus Dupree, a rookie from Oklahoma who joined the club two weeks into the season after signing a $6 million contract, scored on a one-yard run. Dupree reinjured his hamstring, however, and sat out the rest of the game after gaining three yards on two carries. His replacement, RB Buford Jordan (pictured below left), scored the next touchdown on a 14-yard pass from Walton.

The Blitz started off the second quarter with Evans completing a six-yard touchdown pass to WR Marcus Anderson to cut the Breakers’ lead to 14-7. Jordan scored again for New Orleans, on a one-yard carry, three minutes later, but Chicago came back as Evans connected with TE Mark Keel for a 14-yard touchdown and Kevin Seibel kicked a 30-yard field goal in the last minute of the half. The Breakers led by 21-17 at halftime.

Late in the third quarter, Walton threw to veteran TE Dan Ross for a four-yard touchdown to make it 28-17. It seemed as though New Orleans would put the game away early in the fourth quarter, but Jordan fumbled at the Chicago eight yard line after being hit hard by DT Dennis Puha and LB Tom Kilkenny, and safety Mike Fox grabbed the loose ball and ran 92 yards for a TD. Evans followed up with a successful pass to Keel for the two-point conversion, and instead of the Breakers extending their lead, it was cut to 28-25 with 12:46 left in regulation.

Six minutes later, the Blitz went in front when Evans connected with Anderson for a 50-yard touchdown. With the score now 32-25, the New Orleans offense started the ensuing possession from its own four yard line after the kickoff bounced past the kick return team. The Breakers couldn’t get a first down and had to punt after, on a third-and-two play at the nine, Blitz CB Virgil Livers broke into the backfield and tackled Jordan for a loss. It appeared that an upset was in the making.

Chicago wasn’t able to take advantage, however, and had to punt the ball back. The Breakers proceeded to drive 80 yards in seven plays to regain the lead on a nine-yard TD pass from Walton to WR Charlie Smith (a former teammate with the NFL Eagles) with 1:52 left on the clock.

The Blitz got the ball back with one timeout remaining. Evans used sideline routes to move down the field and manage the clock. A 21-yard completion to TE Gary Lewis got the ball to the New Orleans 23, and a pass interference penalty advanced it to the 12 with 40 seconds to go. Breakers LB Ben Needham nearly intercepted a pass that Evans threw on the run with the clock down to 11 seconds, and Chicago tied score at 35-35 with no time remaining as Seibel kicked a 23-yard field goal.

The Breakers won the toss for the overtime period and held onto the ball the entire time. After advancing across midfield, and helped by a 10-yard completion to WR Marion Brown on a third-and-seven play that barely stayed inbounds, Walton faked a short pass and then fired long to WR Frank Lockett, who caught the ball in full stride along the left sideline and proceeded into the end zone for a 44-yard touchdown at 2:59 into OT. New Orleans remained undefeated by a score of 41-35.

The Breakers significantly outgained Chicago (591 yards to 414) and led in first downs (30 to 20). There was only one turnover in the game – the fumble by Buford Jordan that was returned for a touchdown. Neither defense recorded a sack.

John Walton was outstanding, completing 29 of 43 passes for 440 yards and four touchdowns with, of course, none intercepted. Frank Lockett’s game-winning touchdown capped a performance in which he gained 155 yards on 5 catches. Dan Ross had 7 receptions for 92 yards, including a TD, and Buford Jordan also caught 7 passes, for 71 yards and a score. Jordan, a rookie from McNeese State, set a then-team record with 135 yards on 19 carries, making the most of the opportunity to fill in for Dupree.

For the Blitz, Vince Evans was successful on 22 of 32 passes for 292 yards and three touchdowns. RB Larry Canada, formerly of the NFL Broncos, led the club with 68 yards rushing on 13 attempts as well as 7 pass receptions for 48 yards. Marcus Anderson gained 81 yards on four catches that included two TDs.

Frank Lockett said of the game-winning TD pass that it was “a hell of a throw. I just turned and the ball was there.” Coach Levy of the Blitz stated simply that “their guy threw a pass, our guy missed it, their guy caught it.”

“I'm frustrated we don't play tough on defense,” Levy added. “We have some guys who played real well, but we just did not play well as a team.”

New Orleans failed to maintain the early momentum, losing the next week at Birmingham and going just 3-10 the rest of the way to finish up at 8-10 and in third place in the Southern Division. The Blitz ended up at the bottom of the Central Division with a 5-13 record.

In the final season of a pro career that included play in five different leagues, John Walton passed for 3554 yards and 17 touchdowns. Frank Lockett caught 56 passes for 1199 yards, for a very respectable 21.4-yard average, and scored eight TDs. Dan Ross led the club with 65 catches for 833 yards. Buford Jordan outgained Marcus Dupree, 1276 yards (averaging 6.0 yards per carry) to 684.

March 23, 2011

Past Venue: Orange Bowl

Miami, FL

Year opened: 1937
Capacity: 74,476, up from 23,330 at opening and down from 80,010 when seating was added to what had been an open (west) end but was removed in 1977.

Burdine Stadium, 1937-59
Orange Bowl, 1959-2008

Pro football tenants:
Miami Seahawks (AAFC), 1946
Miami Dolphins (AFL/NFL), 1966-86
Miami Tropics (SFL), 2000

Postseason games hosted:
Super Bowl II, Packers 33 Raiders 14, Jan. 14, 1968
Super Bowl III, Jets 16 Colts 7, Jan. 12, 1969
Super Bowl V, Colts 16 Cowboys 13, Jan. 17, 1971
AFC Championship, Dolphins 21 Colts 0, Jan. 2, 1972
AFC Divisional playoff, Dolphins 20 Browns 14, Dec. 24, 1972
AFC Divisional playoff, Dolphins 34 Bengals 16, Dec. 23, 1973
AFC Championship, Dolphins 27 Raiders 10, Dec. 30, 1973
Super Bowl X, Steelers 21 Cowboys 17, Jan. 18, 1976
AFC Wild Card playoff, Oilers 17 Dolphins 9, Dec. 24, 1978
Super Bowl XIII, Steelers 35 Cowboys 31, Jan. 21, 1979
AFC Divisional playoff, Chargers 41 Dolphins 38, Jan. 2, 1982
AFC First Round playoff, Dolphins 28 Patriots 13, Jan. 8, 1983
AFC Divisional playoff, Dolphins 34 Chargers 13, Jan. 16, 1983
AFC Championship, Dolphins 14 Jets 0, Jan. 23, 1983
AFC Divisional playoff, Seahawks 27 Dolphins 20, Dec. 31, 1983
AFC Divisional playoff, Dolphins 31 Seahawks 10, Dec. 29, 1984
AFC Championship, Dolphins 45 Steelers 28, Jan. 6, 1985
AFC Divisional playoff, Dolphins 24 Browns 21, Jan. 4, 1986
AFC Championship, Patriots 31 Dolphins 14, Jan. 12, 1986

Other tenants of note:
Univ. of Miami (college football), 1937-2007
Miami Gatos/Toros (NASL), 1971-76
Miami Freedom (ASL/APSL), 1988-92
Florida International Univ. (college football), 2007

Notes: Hosted annual NFL Playoff Bowl, 1961-70. Hosted NFC/AFC Pro Bowl, Jan. 20, 1975. Hosted annual Orange Bowl football game, 1938-95 and ’99. Hosted annual North-South Shrine Game, 1948-73. Hosted a CFL exhibition game between the Birmingham Barracudas and Baltimore Stallions, 1995. Last pro football team to use the stadium was the Miami Tropics of the Spring Football League that existed only for one mini-season in 2000. Used as venue for FIFA World Cup, 1994, and as a soccer venue for the 1996 Summer Olympics. Occasionally used for minor league baseball games by the Miami Marlins, 1956-60. Originally named for Roddy Burdine, a significant figure in the development of Miami. The natural grass field was replaced with PolyTurf in 1970 and then Prescription Athletic Turf in 1976.

Fate: Demolished in 2008, to be replaced by a new baseball stadium for major league baseball’s Florida Marlins.

March 22, 2011

MVP Profile: Norm Van Brocklin, 1960

Quarterback, Philadelphia Eagles

Age: 34
12th season in pro football, 3rd with Eagles
College: Oregon
Height: 6’1” Weight: 190

Van Brocklin started his career with the Rams in 1949, who drafted him in the 4th round. While forced to split time with Bob Waterfield in his first four seasons – an arrangement not to the liking of either player – “The Dutchman” still led the NFL in passing in 1950 and ’52 and, following Waterfield’s departure, in ’54 as well. Also led league in yards per attempt four times, completion percentage once (55.1 % in 1952) and passing yards once (2637 in 1954). Threw the winning TD pass as Rams defeated Browns for 1951 NFL Championship and was selected to six straight Pro Bowls. However, differences with Head Coach Sid Gillman led him to demand a trade following the ’57 season, and he was dealt to Philadelphia. Took charge of the Eagles offense and led the NFL in pass attempts (374) and completions (198) in 1958 and was named to the Pro Bowl in both ’58 and ‘59. Van Brocklin was also an outstanding punter who led the league in average twice (1955 and ’56).

1960 Season Summary
Appeared in all 12 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Attempts – 284 [2]
Most attempts, game – 30 vs. Cleveland 9/25, vs. Pittsburgh 11/6
Completions – 153 [2]
Most completions, game – 19 vs. Pittsburgh 11/6
Yards – 2471 [2]
Most yards, game – 295 vs. Pittsburgh 11/6
Completion percentage – 53.9 [6]
Yards per attempt – 8.7 [2]
TD passes – 24 [2]
Most TD passes, game – 3 vs. St. Louis 10/9, at Cleveland 10/23, vs. Pittsburgh 11/6, vs. NY Giants 11/27
Interceptions – 17 [7, tied with Bobby Layne]
Most interceptions, game – 3 vs. Cleveland 9/25, at Dallas 9/30, vs. Washington 11/13, vs. NY Giants 11/27
Passer rating – 86.5 [2]
200-yard passing games – 5

Attempts – 11
Most attempts, game - 2 (for -2 yds.) vs. St. Louis 10/9
Yards – -13
Most yards, game – 1 yard (on 1 carry) at Cleveland 10/23, vs. Pittsburgh 11/6, vs. NY Giants 11/27
Yards per attempt – -1.2
TDs – 0

Punts – 60 [4]
Yards – 2585 [4]
Average – 43.1 [5]
Punts blocked – 0
Longest punt – 70 yards

Postseason: 1 G (NFL Championship vs. Green Bay)
Pass attempts – 20
Pass completions – 9
Passing yardage – 204
TD passes – 1
Interceptions – 1

Rushing attempts – 2
Rushing yards – 3
Average gain rushing – 1.5
Rushing TDs – 0

Punts – 6
Yards – 237
Average – 39.5
Punts blocked – 0

Awards & Honors:
NFL MVP: AP, UPI, NEA, Bert Bell Award, Sporting News
1st team All-NFL: AP, NEA, UPI, NY Daily News, Sporting News
Pro Bowl

Eagles went 10-2 to win Eastern Conference. Defeated Green Bay Packers for NFL Championship (17-13).

Van Brocklin retired following the championship season (at the time, he ranked among all-time career leaders with 23,611 passing yards and 178 TD passes) and became head coach of the expansion Minnesota Vikings. He coached the Vikings for six seasons and the Atlanta Falcons for seven (five complete, as he took over during 1968 season and resigned eight games into ’74). “The Dutchman” was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1971.


MVP Profiles feature players who were named MVP or Player of the Year in the NFL, AAFC (1946-49), AFL (1960-69), WFL (1974), or USFL (1983-85) by a recognized organization (Associated Press, Pro Football Writers Association, Newspaper Enterprise Association, United Press International, The Sporting News, Maxwell Club – Bert Bell Award, or the league itself).

[Updated 2/15/14]

March 21, 2011

Past Venue: Municipal Stadium

Kansas City, MO

Year opened: 1923
Capacity: 35,561, up from 16,000 at opening

Muehlebach Field, 1923-37
Ruppert Stadium, 1937-43
Blues Stadium, 1943-54
Municipal Stadium, 1954-76

Pro football tenants:
Kansas City Blues/Cowboys (NFL), 1924-26
Kansas City Chiefs (AFL/NFL), 1963-71

Postseason games hosted:
AFC Divisional playoff, Dolphins 27 Chiefs 24, Dec. 25, 1971

Other tenants of note:
Kansas City Blues (minor league baseball), 1923-54
Kansas City Monarchs (baseball Negro leagues), 1923-31, 37-54
Kansas City Athletics (MLB – AL), 1955-67
Kansas City Royals (MLB – AL), 1969-72
Kansas City Spurs (NASL), 1968-70

Notes: Temporary stands erected in baseball’s left field in order to add seating for football. Stadium was significantly reconstructed into Municipal Stadium for the arrival of major league baseball in 1955. Originally named for George Muehlebach, owner of the minor league baseball Blues, who built the stadium but was renamed for Jacob Ruppert, owner of the New York Yankees, when that club purchased the Blues.

Fate: Demolished in 1976 and was replaced by a municipal garden. Currently the site of a housing development.

March 20, 2011

1983: Mazzetti Field Goals Lift Breakers Past Federals

The Boston Breakers had split their first two games on the road in the United States Football League’s inaugural season. On March 20, 1983 they played their first home game, drawing 18,430 to the 20,535-seat Nickerson Field at Boston University. Under Head Coach Dick Coury and offensive coordinator Roman Gabriel, they had 35-year-old John Walton at quarterback, a veteran of four different pro football leagues (Continental, Midwest, NFL, and WFL) who had come out of retirement as head coach at Elizabeth City State to lend his strong passing arm to a fifth league.

Their opponents, the Washington Federals, had lost both games thus far under Head Coach Ray Jauch. They were further handicapped coming into the contest at Boston by the loss to injury of starting QB Mike Hohensee and RB Craig James, two prize rookies.

Veteran NFL backup QB Kim McQuilken took over for Hohensee, and the Federals started off the scoring when Obed Ariri kicked a 38-yard field goal 5:43 into the first quarter. The Breakers responded when Tim Mazzetti, the former bartender-turned-NFL placekicker who spent three seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, booted a 20-yard field goal. The score stood at 3-3 after one quarter.

Mazzetti kicked a 47-yard field goal in the second quarter to put Boston ahead by 6-3, but Washington regained the lead by scoring the first touchdown of the game on a 17-yard pass from McQuilken to WR Joey Walters. A third Mazzetti field goal, from 21 yards, made it 10-9 in favor of the Federals at the half.

Washington extended its lead to 16-9 in the third quarter when DB Mike Guess returned a punt 43 yards, setting up a two-yard touchdown carry by RB James Mayberry. The extra point attempt was missed.

It seemed as though the underdog Federals would pull out the win on the road, especially since Boston’s offense was missing scoring opportunities. On four occasions, the Breakers made it inside the Washington ten yard line without scoring a TD - Walton had turned the ball over on two of those occasions, with a fumble and an interception. But turnovers on special teams by the Federals in the last five minutes of the game ultimately determined the outcome.

With the ball deep in their own territory, an attempted punt by Steve Coffman was botched due to a bad snap, forcing the punter to fall on the ball on the one yard line. With 4:37 remaining on the clock, Boston RB Richard Crump ran for the one-yard touchdown. The successful PAT tied the score at 16-16.

Then, with time running down, Washington got another chance to retake the lead, lining up for a 42-yard field goal attempt. However, the snap passed over Ariri’s head, and traveled all the way to the Federals’ 35 yard line, where Ariri finally fell on it, resulting in a 40-yard change of possession.

Walton completed passes of 13 yards to WR Dwayne Strozier and 9 yards to Crump to set up Mazzetti’s fourth field goal of the game, which was successful from 29 yards out with 27 seconds left on the clock. The Breakers came away with a 19-16 win.

Obed Ariri kicked a field goal for the Federals, but also missed an extra point and had a 33-yard field goal attempt blocked. C Dave Pacella was handling the long-snapping in place of another injured player, Bruce Byrom, with disastrous results. Breakers NT Jeff Gaylord disrupted Pacella, causing the bad snaps that ultimately cost the Federals the game.

Boston outgained Washington (390 yards to 335) and had the edge in first downs (19 to 18), although the Federals held onto the ball longer (31:42 to 28:18). As would prove typical throughout the season, the Breakers gave up no sacks as the line gave Walton good protection.

The veteran Walton had a relatively ordinary day, completing 21 of 42 passes for 247 yards with no TDs and two interceptions. Richard Crump (pictured below) had an outstanding game, rushing for 130 yards on 15 carries, including the short touchdown, and caught 5 passes for another 50 yards. WR Nolan Franz had 5 receptions for a team-leading 73 yards and ex-Patriots RB Andy Johnson also grabbed 5 passes for 55 yards.

For the Federals, Kim McQuilken went to the air 47 times, with 25 completions for 322 yards, but also gave up four interceptions. RB Eric Robinson caught 9 passes for 98 yards and Joey Walters gained 112 yards on 7 catches. However, the running game was ineffective, with a total of 27 yards on 27 attempts – Robinson led the club by gaining 32 yards on 20 carries.

The narrow win would come to characterize the Breakers throughout the ’83 season. 11 of their 18 games were decided by fewer than nine points, and the outcome of 10 weren’t determined until the fourth quarter. Overall, Boston went 11-7 to finish second in the Atlantic Division, just missing a chance at the playoffs. Washington ended up at the bottom with a 4-14 record.

John Walton suffered a knee injury late in the season, but still managed to lead the USFL with 589 pass attempts, of which he completed 56 percent for 3772 yards with 20 touchdowns against 18 interceptions. Richard Crump ran for 990 yards on 190 carries for a good 5.2-yard average and 8 touchdowns – he scored another four TDs among his 44 pass receptions. Tim Mazzetti was the league’s second-leading scorer with 119 points that included 27 field goals and 38 extra points.

March 19, 2011

MVP Profile: Lance Alworth, 1963

Flanker, San Diego Chargers

Age: 23
2nd season in pro football & with Chargers
College: Arkansas
Height: 6’0” Weight: 180

Chosen by the Raiders in the 2nd round of the 1962 AFL draft, Alworth’s draft rights were obtained by San Diego. Due to injuries, he had a quiet rookie season, appearing in four games and catching 10 passes for 226 yards, although three of those went for touchdowns.

1963 Season Summary
Appeared in all 14 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 61 [6, tied with Charley Hennigan]
Most receptions, game – 13 (for 210 yds.) at Boston 11/10
Yards – 1205 [2]
Most yards, game - 232 (on 9 catches) at Kansas City 10/20
Average gain – 19.8 [3]
TDs – 11 [2]
200-yard receiving games - 2
100-yard receiving games - 4

Attempts – 2
Yards – 14
Average gain – 7.0
TDs – 0

Punt Returns
Returns – 11 [8, tied with Willie West & Frank Jackson]
Yards – 120 [8]
Average per return – 10.9
TDs – 0
Longest return – 61 yards

Kickoff Returns
Returns – 10 [16, tied with Dick Westmoreland]
Yards – 216 [16]
Average per return – 21.6
TDs – 0
Longest return – 34 yards

TDs – 11 [3]
Points – 66 [7, tied with George Blanda]

Postseason: 1 G (AFL Championship vs. Boston)
Pass receptions – 4
Pass receiving yards - 77
Average yards per reception – 19.3
Pass Receiving TDs – 1

Kickoff returns – 2
Kickoff return yards – 47
Average per return – 23.5
TDs – 0

Awards & Honors:
AFL Player of the Year: UPI
1st team All-AFL: League, AP, NEA, UPI, NY Daily News
AFL All-Star Game

Chargers went 11-3 to win AFL Western Division while leading league in points scored (399), touchdowns (50), and total yardage (5145). Defeated Boston Patriots (51-10) for AFL Championship.

The breakout year in 1963 was just the beginning for Alworth. It was the first of seven straight 1000-yard receiving seasons, three in which he led the AFL, and four straight (of an eventual five) years in which he reached double figures in receiving TDs (he led the league in each of the next three). Alworth led the AFL in pass receptions three times, was a consensus 1st-team All-AFL honoree for six straight years, and was selected to seven consecutive league All-Star games. Alworth spent his last two seasons (1971 and ’72) with the Dallas Cowboys. His #19 was retired by the Chargers and he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1978 (the first inductee whose career was primarily in the AFL).


MVP Profiles feature players who were named MVP or Player of the Year in the NFL, AAFC (1946-49), AFL (1960-69), WFL (1974), or USFL (1983-85) by a recognized organization (Associated Press, Pro Football Writers Association, Newspaper Enterprise Association, United Press International, The Sporting News, Maxwell Club – Bert Bell Award, or the league itself).

[Updated 2/15/14]

March 18, 2011

1984: Greenwood Interception Saves Michigan Win Over Wranglers

Coming into the March 18, 1984 game against the Arizona Wranglers at the Pontiac Silverdome, the Michigan Panthers had won their first three games of the United States Football League’s second season. Indeed, the defending USFL champions had won nine straight, going back to ’83. The offense, centered around QB Bobby Hebert and WR Anthony Carter, was continuing to roll up yardage, but the defense would be without two key players heading into the contest with the Wranglers. LB John Corker, the USFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 1983 with 28 sacks, and veteran DE Larry Bethea were suspended indefinitely by Head Coach Jim Stanley for missing practice the day before.

Arizona was, for all intents and purposes, the continuation of the Chicago Blitz franchise of 1983 – the teams had switched venues in the offseason. Thus, the veteran-laden Wranglers, coached by George Allen, were a formidable opponent.

There were 43,130 fans in attendance at the Silverdome, and they saw the Panthers score the first two times they had the ball. Midway through the first quarter, RB John Williams ran for a one-yard touchdown and, following an answering 31-yard field goal by Frank Corral of Arizona, Hebert connected with WR Derek Holloway for a ten-yard TD in the last minute of the period. Michigan led by 14-3.

There was only one more score during the first half as Corral kicked a 20-yard field goal half way through the second quarter. The halftime tally was 14-6.

Arizona got to within a point of the Panthers in the third quarter, thanks to a nine-yard touchdown pass from 16th-year veteran QB Greg Landry to WR Lenny Willis and Corral’s extra point. However, Michigan responded quickly with an 87-yard drive in five plays that resulted in a TD pass from Hebert to TE Mike Cobb of 13 yards.

Three minutes later, Arizona closed to a 21-19 margin on a nine-yard scoring carry by RB Kevin Long, but on the attempt to tie the game with a two-point conversion, Landry’s pass intended for Long was broken up.

Michigan struck quickly to extend the margin once more, with Hebert again throwing to the small (5’7”) but fast Holloway for a 60-yard touchdown. The third quarter ended shortly thereafter with the Panthers leading by 28-19.

The Wranglers scored in the fourth quarter, on another run by Long, this time of two yards. Corral kicked the extra point, which again put them just two points back – a field goal could win the game.

However, Michigan’s Novo Bojovic kicked a 47-yard field goal with just over three minutes remaining to give the Panthers a five-point lead, thus necessitating that Arizona score a touchdown in order to win. It seemed as though they might pull it off, as the Wranglers reached the Michigan four yard line with under a minute to play. But a pass into the end zone by Landry that was intended for WR Trumaine Johnson was intercepted by star SS David Greenwood, who made a leaping grab to save the game for the Panthers. The final score was 31-26.

“You really don't think that much in a situation like that,” Greenwood said of the game-saving interception. “It's all reaction. I remember tipping it and the ball falling into my
hands.” Greenwood further stated that the Arizona assistant coaches were heckling the Panthers – “I was very, very glad to stick it in their face.”

Arizona outgained the Panthers (473 yards to 321), had more first downs (28 to 17), and led in time of possession (32:02 to 27:58). However, the Wranglers also turned the ball over three times, to one suffered by Michigan, and were penalized 12 times to just four flags thrown against the Panthers.

Bobby Hebert completed 12 of 20 passes for 251 yards with three touchdowns and none intercepted. Derek Holloway bested Anthony Carter on this occasion, catching three passes for 108 yards and two TDs to two receptions for 42 yards for Carter. John Williams led the club with 52 rushing yards on 15 carries while RB Cleo Miller contributed 31 yards on 9 attempts.

For Arizona, Greg Landry was successful on 26 of 39 passes for 289 yards with two touchdowns, but also two interceptions. Trumaine Johnson caught 7 passes for 95 yards. Kevin Long was the leading rusher with 75 yards on 13 carries, including the two TDs.

Of the suspensions of Corker and Bethea, NT Dave Tipton indicated that it forced the defense to work harder. “You've got to treat it the same way as if someone's injured,” Tipton said. “You don't cry about it and you don't whine about it. Hopefully we've
surrounded ourselves and Coach Stanley has with people that can win regardless.” The two were reinstated the following week.

Michigan got to 6-0 before finally losing, but in that sixth game Anthony Carter was lost for the remainder of the season with a broken arm. The team struggled the rest of the way, not helped when Greenwood went down with torn knee ligaments in Week 11. They lost four straight contests and 9 of 13 to close out the regular season with a 10-8 record, making it into the playoffs as a wild card entry. The Panthers lost in a triple-overtime Quarterfinal game to the Los Angeles Express.

Arizona also went 10-8 and finished second in the Pacific Division, but went farther in the postseason as they advanced to the USFL Championship game. They lost, 23-3, to the Philadelphia Stars.

March 17, 2011

1965: Happy Chandler Named Commissioner of Continental Football League

With pro football booming in the 1960s and a second major league, the American Football League, providing evidence that there were still untapped markets for pro teams, another venture was launched in 1965. The Continental Football League was made up primarily of franchises from two minor leagues, with five from the defunct United Football League and four that pulled away from the Atlantic Coast Professional Football League.

On March 17, 1965 the new league took a significant step at generating publicity, and at least some credibility, by introducing 66-year-old Albert B. “Happy” Chandler as its first commissioner at a press conference.

The jovial Chandler had been Commissioner of Baseball from 1945 to ’51, succeeding Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis and presiding over the integration of the major leagues. He was also a two-time Governor of Kentucky (1935-39 and 1955-59) and US Senator (1939-45).

Teams in the new league would play a 14-game schedule, and the 1965 season was to start on August 14 – a month before the NFL and AFL. Games would typically be on Saturday or Sunday nights and, in a move that the NFL would not adopt until 1974, sudden death overtime would decide regular season games that were tied after four quarters.

No television deals had been signed, although Chandler indicated that “we have hopes” (those hopes would ultimately prove to be in vain). Many players were already under contract. Each team had a 36-player roster limit and was allowed to carry a five-player taxi squad. Each had also paid a $5000 franchise fee and posted a $25,000 letter of credit. While there was no college draft for the first season, Chandler hoped that the new league would be able to compete for college talent with the NFL and AFL.

The ten-team league was organized into two divisions, with the East consisting of the Newark Bears (New Jersey), Norfolk Neptunes (originally the Springfield Acorns, from Massachusetts), Philadelphia Bulldogs, Toronto Rifles, and Wheeling Ironmen and the West containing the Charleston Rockets (West Virginia), Ft. Wayne Warriors (Indiana), Hartford Charter Oaks, Rhode Island Indians (Providence), and Richmond Rebels. Newark, Springfield/Norfolk, Richmond, and Hartford had come from the ACFL. Wheeling, Charleston, Toronto, Philadelphia, and Ft. Wayne came out of the UFL. The team in Providence was the only truly new franchise.

While the league belied its name by hardly spanning the continent – there were no clubs west of the Mississippi River or south of Virginia – there was talk of future expansion and Chandler insisted on promoting the enterprise as a new major league. In that spirit, teams were restricted from loaning players to NFL or AFL clubs, or from receiving optioned players from those leagues.

The name Continental League had been consciously lifted from a proposed third major baseball league that had been fronted by the innovative Branch Rickey in the late 50s and was finally nipped in the bud when the two existing leagues agreed to expand in 1961 and ’62. There was speculation that the new football league was a front for franchises looking to receive favorable attention from the AFL, which was due to expand beyond its initial eight clubs.

The Continental Football League got much farther than its baseball namesake, not only playing a complete season in 1965, but lasting for five years, until folding after the ’69 season. However, Chandler, who had been signed to a five-year contract, lasted just ten months as commissioner, resigning in January of 1966 after several teams sought to develop working relationships with NFL and AFL teams, thus abandoning any pretense of being a major league.

Few of the original franchises lasted all five years, with some, such as Ft. Wayne and Newark, relocating by the second year. The Charleston Rockets went a perfect 14-0 in the 1965 regular season and defeated Toronto for the ContFL’s first championship, but folded during the ’68 season. The Philadelphia Bulldogs, who won the ’66 title, weren’t back in 1967. Teams came and went during the league’s five-year run, although it did finally span the continent in 1967, fielding clubs in San Jose, Sacramento, Long Beach (for one game), and Orange County in California as well as Eugene, Oregon, and Orlando, Florida (the relocated Newark franchise). There were even more Canadian teams, the Montreal Beavers (formerly Ft. Wayne) and Victoria Steelers, and, in the last year, one in Monterrey, Mexico, the Golden Aztecs. There were 22 teams in 1969, not all of which completed the season.

Brooklyn hosted a franchise in 1966, but even though it had notable names running the operation – former baseball great Jackie Robinson (pictured below) as general manager and ex-Giant Andy Robustelli at head coach – it failed to draw and was a league-operated road team by the end of the season. It was typical of the instability that characterized the ContFL to the end.

While the Continental Football League never achieved the major league status that was envisioned when Happy Chandler took the helm, it did help launch some NFL playing and coaching careers, including QB Ken Stabler (Spokane Shockers), DE Coy Bacon (Charleston Rockets), DE Otis Sistrunk (Norfolk Neptunes), DB Pete Athas (Norfolk Neptunes), and PK Garo Yepremian (Michigan Arrows). QB John Walton of the Indianapolis Capitals went on to play in the WFL (San Antonio Wings), NFL (Philadelphia Eagles), and USFL (Boston/New Orleans Breakers). Two-time league MVP Don Jonas of the Orlando Panthers went on to become a star quarterback in Canada. And the head coach of the 1967 San Jose Apaches eventually coached at Stanford before entering into a Hall of Fame career as head coach of the NFL’s 49ers: 35-year-old Bill Walsh.

March 16, 2011

Past Venue: Gator Bowl

Jacksonville, FL

Year opened: 1928
Capacity: 62,000, up from 7600 at opening

Fairfield Stadium, 1928-48
Gator Bowl, 1948-93

Pro football tenants:
Jacksonville Robins (SFL), 1963-65
Jacksonville Jaguars (NAFL), 1966
Jacksonville Sharks/Express (WFL), 1974-75
Jacksonville Bulls (USFL), 1984-85

Postseason games hosted:

Other tenants of note:
Jacksonville Tea Men (NASL), 1981-82

Notes: Hosted AFL All-Star Game, Jan. 21, 1968 & Jan. 19, 1969. Hosted annual Gator Bowl football game, 1946-93. Hosted annual Univ. of Georgia vs. Univ. of Florida Football Classic, 1933-93. Originally constructed as home football field for Jacksonville’s three high schools.

Fate: Almost entirely demolished in 1994 and reconstructed as Jacksonville Municipal Stadium (later Alltel Stadium and EverBank Field). Upper deck on west side was the only part of the stadium to be incorporated into the new facility.

[Updated 2/3/14]

March 15, 2011

MVP Profile: Herschel Walker, 1985

Running Back, New Jersey Generals

Age: 23 (Mar. 3)
3rd season in pro football & with Generals
College: Georgia
Height: 6’1” Weight: 223

After winning the Heisman Trophy as a junior in 1982, Walker stunned the football world by signing with the Generals of the new USFL for the ’83 spring season. He led the league in rushing (1812 yards) in 1983 and, playing with a sore shoulder in ’84, added another 1339 yards. Was a consensus All-League first-team selection in ’83.

1985 Season Summary
Appeared and started in all 18 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Attempts – 438 [1]
Most attempts, game - 36 (for 142 yds.) at Denver 5/19
Yards – 2411 [1]
Most yards, game – 233 yards (on 34 carries) vs. Houston 4/7
Average gain – 5.5 [2]
TDs – 21 [1]
200-yard rushing games - 3
100-yard rushing games - 14

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 37
Most receptions, game – 5 (for 35 yds.) vs. Portland 4/14
Yards – 467
Most yards, game - 106 (on 3 catches) at Denver 5/19
Average gain – 12.6
TDs – 1
100-yard receiving games - 1

TDs – 22 [1]
Points – 132 [1]

Postseason: 1 G (USFL Quarterfinal playoff vs. Baltimore)
Rushing attempts – 25
Rushing yards – 66
Average gain rushing – 2.6
Rushing TDs – 1

Pass receptions – 4
Pass receiving yards - 44
Average yards per reception – 11.0
Pass Receiving TDs - 0

Awards & Honors:
USFL Player of the Year: League, Sporting News, College & Pro Football Newsweekly
1st team All-USFL: League, Sporting News, College & Pro Football Newsweekly

Generals went 11-7 to place second in USFL Eastern Conference and gain wild card spot in postseason. Lost Quarterfinal playoff game to Baltimore Stars (20-17).

Following the demise of the USFL, Walker joined the NFL Dallas Cowboys, who had drafted him in the fifth round in 1985 (his first year eligible under the rules then in effect). Splitting time with veteran RB Tony Dorsett, he gained 1574 yards from scrimmage in ’86 and led the league with 1606 yards in ’87. Walker was selected to the Pro Bowl following the 1987 and ’88 seasons – his 1514 rushing yards in ’88 were his NFL career high. Traded to Minnesota during the 1989 season, although still productive, he was unable to fit comfortably into the offense. Moving on to Philadelphia in 1992, he had his only other thousand-yard rushing season in the NFL (1070), and while an effective runner-receiver-kick returner, found himself sharing time in the offensive backfield. Following a 1995 season in which he was primarily used as a kick returner by the New York Giants, Walker returned to the Cowboys for his last two pro seasons.


MVP Profiles feature players who were named MVP or Player of the Year in the NFL, AAFC (1946-49), AFL (1960-69), WFL (1974), or USFL (1983-85) by a recognized organization (Associated Press, Pro Football Writers Association, Newspaper Enterprise Association, United Press International, The Sporting News, Maxwell Club – Bert Bell Award, or the league itself).

[Updated 2/15/14]

March 14, 2011

1945: Rams Hire Adam Walsh as Head Coach

On March 14, 1945 the Cleveland Rams signed Adam Walsh to a five-year contract as head coach. Walsh, the line coach at Notre Dame, was the brother of Rams GM Charles “Chile” Walsh and succeeded Aldo “Buff” Donelli, who left to join the Navy.

The 43-year-old Walsh had been on the staff at Notre Dame since mid-1944, when he left Bowdoin, where he had been a successful head coach who turned a losing program around - his teams won the Maine Intercollegiate football championship in seven out of eight years. His overall record was 34-15-6. In 1943, Bowdoin suspended the athletic program for the remainder of World War II, and Walsh was allowed to go on leave of absence to Notre Dame.

Going to Notre Dame was something of a homecoming for Walsh. He played there collegiately and was an All-American center who captained the team in 1924 that contained the legendary starting backfield known as “The Four Horsemen”. After college, and prior to going to Bowdoin, Walsh was head coach and athletic director at Santa Clara from 1925 to ’28 and later served as line coach at both Yale and Harvard.

Walsh was a proponent of the T-formation, which was finding new-found popularity at both the pro and college levels in the 1940s. He was fortunate to have a rookie quarterback out of UCLA, Bob Waterfield, who could run the new offense very effectively. There was also HB Fred Gehrke, returning from a four-year stint in the military, holdover HB Jim Gillette, and rookie FB Don Greenword to handle the running game. End Jim Benton was a proven veteran, and the other starting end, Steve Pritko, had played well in ’44. Two more rookies, tackle Gil Bouley from Boston College and guard/linebacker Milan Lazetich, bolstered the line which also added veteran tackle Eberle Schultz from the Card-Pitt combined team of ’44. Guard Riley Matheson was already there, an established talent who had been a consensus first-team All-Pro in 1942 and ’44.

From a 4-6 record in 1944, the Rams went 9-1 under Walsh in ’45. Waterfield had a MVP season, leading the league with 14 touchdown passes (tied with Sid Luckman of the Bears) and 9.9 yards per attempt. He also showed outstanding toughness (he played one game heavily taped due to torn rib muscles) and leadership to go along with his fine passing, and was an asset on defense (six interceptions, tied for second in the NFL) and as a punter. Benton had a sensational year, catching 45 passes for a league-leading 1067 yards (including 303 in one game) and eight touchdowns. Gehrke, Gillette, and Greenwood all finished in the top ten in rushing and the team was top-ranked in that category. Matheson was again a consensus first-team All-Pro.

The Rams won the Western Division and hosted the Washington Redskins in the NFL Championship game on a bitterly cold day at Municipal Stadium. They won, 15-14, and Walsh had a title in his first year as a pro head coach.

While the franchise performed well on the field, it didn’t do so well at the gate. Owner Daniel F. Reeves lost some $50,000 and petitioned the league to allow him to move the club to Los Angeles. Initially turned down by the other owners, an angry Reeves had threatened to sell the team, but the NFL finally allowed the move.

The Rams went west, and faced the immediate challenge of another team, the Los Angeles Dons of the newly-formed All-America Football Conference (AAFC), competing against them for fans and sharing the massive Memorial Coliseum. Under pressure from the commission that governed the stadium, the Rams added two players – first, HB Kenny Washington, who had been a star at UCLA, and then end Woody Strode, also from UCLA – who became the first two African-Americans in the NFL since 1933. They also added HB Tom Harmon, former Heisman Trophy winner from Michigan.

The team was still very competitive at its new location. Waterfield, returning to the city where he had starred collegiately, led the NFL in passing (although by the modern rating method, he finished second to Luckman) as well as touchdowns (17). Benton again led the league in receiving yards (981) and in pass receptions as well (63, which was 31 more than runner-up Hal Crisler of the Boston Yanks). Gehrke had the top rushing average (5.2 on 71 carries for 371 yards).

The team played respectably but not consistently as they failed to win consecutive games until the last two contests of the year. It made for a second place finish at 6-4-1. In the end, the Rams lost even more money in Los Angeles than in Cleveland. Presaging decades of front office upheaval that would characterize the franchise, GM Walsh fired his brother, Coach Walsh, and was then fired himself by owner Reeves, who chose to act as his own general manager. Bob Snyder was hired as coach for 1947, and the team dropped to fourth place with a 6-6 tally.

Adam Walsh left the Rams with a 15-5-1 record as a pro head coach, and a win in the ’45 NFL title game. He returned to Bowdoin (which had always considered him to still be on leave, even after leaving Notre Dame for pro coaching). While not as successful in his second stint with the team, Walsh stayed from 1947 to ’58 and went 63-67-9 for an overall record at the school of 80-85-11.

Following his retirement from football coaching, Walsh served in the Maine House of Representatives and was later appointed U.S. Marshal for Maine by President Kennedy.

While Walsh’s pro coaching career may have been short, his college playing and coaching career earned him later recognition - he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1968 and the Maine Sports Hall of Fame in 1976.

March 13, 2011

Past Venue: RCA Dome

Indianapolis, IN
aka Hoosier Dome

Year opened: 1984
Capacity: 57,980

Hoosier Dome, 1983-94
RCA Dome, 1994-2008

Pro football tenants:
Indianapolis Colts (NFL), 1984-2007

Postseason games hosted:
AFC Divisional playoff, Titans 19 Colts 16, Jan. 16, 2000
AFC Wild Card playoff, Colts 41 Broncos 10, Jan. 4, 2004
AFC Wild Card playoff, Colts 49 Broncos 24, Jan. 9, 2005
AFC Divisional playoff, Steelers 21 Colts 18, Jan. 15, 2006
AFC Wild Card playoff, Colts 23 Chiefs 8, Jan. 6, 2007
AFC Championship, Colts 38 Patriots 34, Jan. 21, 2007
AFC Divisional playoff, Chargers 28 Colts 24, Jan. 13, 2008

Other tenants of note:

Notes: Regularly hosted annual NFL Scouting Combine. Built as part of the Indiana Convention Center with both public and private financing. The roof was made of teflon-coated fiberglass and held up by air pressure inside the building. Hosted NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four, 1991, 1997, 2000, 2006. Hosted NCAA Women’s Basketball Final Four, 2005. Hosted World Gymnastics Championships, 1991. Original AstroTurf surface was replaced with FieldTurf in 2005.

Fate: Demolished in 2008 to create additional space for the adjoining Indiana Convention Center.

March 12, 2011

1983: Wranglers Mount Late Rally to Stun Blitz

Entering the United States Football League’s first season, the Chicago Blitz were identified as the team most likely to dominate the new league. They had the best-known head coach in George Allen and, following the pattern Allen had established with the teams he coached in the NFL, the club also had much veteran talent on the roster. An easy win over the Washington Federals in the season-opening game only seemed to confirm that Chicago was the team to beat.

The Blitz entered their second game, a Saturday night contest on March 12, 1983, as 13-point favorites against the Arizona Wranglers, a team that had been shut out in Week One. Coached by Doug Shively, the Wranglers seemed to be as bereft of talent as Chicago was loaded with it. As much as could be discerned at such an early point in the USFL’s development, the game appeared to be a classic mismatch. Arizona did make one significant move, however - Todd Krueger started at quarterback in the opening game, and was replaced by Alan Risher (pictured above), a rookie out of LSU, who was given the start against the Blitz.

There were 28,434 in attendance at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe – far less than the 45,167 present for the opener. For the first three quarters, it seemed as though the Blitz would breeze to another win. While Jim Asmus, who had missed two short field goal attempts the week before and was nearly replaced, booted a 22-yard field goal in the first quarter to start the scoring, Chicago responded with a 15-yard touchdown pass from 15th-year veteran QB Greg Landry to WR Lenny Willis to make the score 7-3.

Frank Corral kicked a 30-yard field goal for the Blitz in the second quarter, and the score was 10-6 at halftime after Asmus kicked another field goal for Arizona, from 35 yards. In the third quarter, it seemed as though Chicago had the game under control. Landry threw another TD pass, of 12 yards to TE Paul Ricker (the extra point attempt failed), and while the Wranglers scored on a six-yard Risher touchdown pass to WR Mike Smith (the PAT attempt was blocked), the Blitz scored again on a one-yard TD run by RB Kevin Long.

It was 23-12 after three quarters, and when Landry threw a third touchdown pass, of 15 yards to Ricker (and despite yet another failed try for an extra point), Chicago held a seemingly insurmountable lead of 29-12 with 11:23 remaining to play.

However, Risher and the Arizona offense dominated the rest of the final period. The Wranglers put together an 85-yard drive that was capped by a 10-yard touchdown pass to WR Jackie Flowers. They went for a two-point conversion, and in a thrilling (and key) play, Risher dropped back some 30 yards while eluding Chicago pass rushers and finally threw to TE Mark Keel, who caught the ball just inside the end zone. The Blitz lead was narrowed to 29-20.

Following a short punt by Corral, the Wranglers regained possession with good field position at the Chicago 45. They took full advantage, with Risher again using his mobility to excellent advantage to frustrate the rush and make plays, and drove to a nine-yard scoring pass from the rookie quarterback to WR Neil Balholm that made it a two-point game.

There were now under three minutes remaining, and in a key defensive series, Arizona prevented the Blitz from controlling the ball. After Landry was sacked for ten yards on a third down play, Corral again got off a short punt and the Wranglers had one last chance.

On the ensuing drive, Risher showed great poise, running 12 yards for a first down at one point and completing passes to Keel of nine and eight yards to set up a last field goal attempt by Asmus. Asmus connected from 33 yards with one second remaining, and Arizona came away with the biggest upset of the new league’s brief history by a score of 30-29.

The game was very sloppy, with a total of 30 penalties called (a whopping 20 on the Wranglers to 10 on Chicago), and between the flags and a total of 77 passes thrown by the teams, it took some four hours to play. Arizona outgained the Blitz both on the ground (151 yards to 90) and through the air (289 to 256), although Chicago had more first downs (26 to 25). Each team turned the ball over one time apiece. But while Jim Asmus made up for his poor kicking performance the week prior, Chicago’s veteran punter/placekicker Frank Corral, who had suffered an injury in practice the day before, missed two extra points and punted poorly, averaging just 32.3 yards on his three kicks.

Alan Risher completed 28 of 40 passes for 269 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions and ran for 40 yards on six carries. Neil Balholm caught 9 passes for 91 yards and a TD while Mark Keel contributed 6 receptions for 69 yards. RB Steve Howell led the Wranglers in rushing with 49 yards on 11 attempts.

For Chicago, Greg Landry was successful on 24 of 36 passes for 268 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. WR Wamon Buggs caught 7 passes for 96 yards. Kevin Long ran for 45 yards on 11 carries while rookie RB Tim Spencer contributed 40 yards on 14 attempts.

“I've been around football 25 years and I've never seen one quite like this,” said Arizona’s Coach Shively. “I actually gave up two or three times.”

“They (the Blitz) kind of classified this as their exhibition game,” Jim Asmus added. “We had to show them.”

“We took off our blitzing because Risher rolled out and hit consistently,” explained George Allen. “If he practiced that two-point play, he couldn't have pulled it off any better.”

Arizona got off to a 4-4 start to contend early in the Pacific Division, but collapsed thereafter, losing 10 straight to close out the schedule. The final result was 4-14 and a last place finish.

Chicago showed a tendency to lose late leads throughout the season, but ended with a 12-6 record to place second in the Central Division and qualify for a wild card spot in the playoffs. The Blitz lost to the Philadelphia Stars in the Semifinal round – in a game in which the Stars came from behind to force a tie and then won in overtime.

Alan Risher ranked sixth among USFL passers for the year, completing 55.7 percent of his 424 passes for 2672 yards and more touchdowns (20) than interceptions (16). While he was bothered by a sore shoulder and showed signs of wear as the season wore on, he proved to be a good addition on offense.

March 11, 2011

MVP Profile: Shaun Alexander, 2005

Running Back, Seattle Seahawks

Age: 28
6th season in pro football & with Seahawks
College: Alabama
Height: 5’11” Weight: 225

Chosen by the Seahawks in the 1st round of the 2000 NFL Draft, Alexander broke into the starting lineup in ’01. He had four straight 1000-yard seasons through 2004, with a high of 1696 in ’04, and led the league with 14 rushing TDs in 2001. He was named to the Pro Bowl following the 2003 and ’04 seasons.

2005 Season Summary
Appeared and started in all 16 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Attempts – 370 [1]
Most attempts, game - 33 (for 165 yds.) vs. St. Louis 11/13
Yards – 1880 [1]
Most yards, game – 173 yards (on 23 carries) at Arizona 11/6
Average gain – 5.1 [5]
TDs – 27 [1]
100-yard rushing games - 11

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 15
Most receptions, game – 4 (for 20 yds.) vs. San Francisco 12/11
Yards – 78
Most yards, game - 20 (on 4 catches) vs. San Francisco 12/11
Average gain – 5.2
TDs - 1

TDs – 28 [1]
Points – 168 [1]

The 28 touchdowns set a NFL single-season record, since broken.

Postseason: 3 G
Rushing attempts – 60
Most rushing attempts, game - 34 vs. Carolina, NFC Championship
Rushing yards – 236
Most rushing yards, game - 132 vs. Carolina, NFC Championship
Average gain rushing – 3.9
Rushing TDs – 2

Pass receptions – 3
Most pass receptions, game - 2 vs. Pittsburgh, Super Bowl
Pass receiving yards - 2
Most pass receiving yards, game - 2 vs. Pittsburgh, Super Bowl
Average yards per reception – 0.7
Pass Receiving TDs - 0

Awards & Honors:
NFL MVP: AP, PFWA, NEA, Bert Bell Award, Sporting News
NFL Offensive Player of the Year: AP
1st team All-NFL: AP, PFWA, Sporting News
1st team All-NFC: Pro Football Weekly
Pro Bowl

Seahawks went 13-3 to win NFC West and gain top playoff seed in conference while leading league in points scored (452) and touchdowns (57). Won Divisional playoff over Washington Redskins (20-10) and NFC Championship over Carolina Panthers (34-14). Lost Super Bowl to Pittsburgh Steelers (21-10)

Alexander signed an 8-year contract extension but broke his foot three weeks into the 2006 season and was limited to just 10 games, gaining 896 yards rushing, including 201 on 40 carries against Green Bay. After a less productive year in ’07, in which he suffered a series of nagging injuries, he was released. Alexander joined the Redskins during the 2008 season, to provide depth following the loss of backup RB Ladell Betts, and ran the ball just 11 times in four games in his final year at age 31.


MVP Profiles feature players who were named MVP or Player of the Year in the NFL, AAFC (1946-49), AFL (1960-69), WFL (1974), or USFL (1983-85) by a recognized organization (Associated Press, Pro Football Writers Association, Newspaper Enterprise Association, United Press International, The Sporting News, Maxwell Club – Bert Bell Award, or the league itself).

[Updated 2/15/14]

March 10, 2011

1967: Vikings Hire Bud Grant as Head Coach

It had been an offseason of change since the Minnesota Vikings completed the 1966 season with a disappointing 4-9-1 record. The ongoing battle between Norm Van Brocklin, the team’s first head coach, and Fran Tarkenton, who had almost immediately become the starting quarterback as a rookie in the club’s inaugural season of 1961, had reached a point of no return. The result was that both departed.

Van Brocklin resigned, and a few days before the hiring of his successor, Tarkenton was traded to the New York Giants. Late on Friday, March 10, 1967, the Vikings signed Harry “Bud” Grant to be the team’s head coach (a press conference was held the next morning to make it official).

Grant was 39 years old (he turned 40 prior to the season) and had been head coach of the CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers for the previous ten years. An outstanding all-around athlete at the University of Minnesota, he played both football and basketball professionally (the NBA’s Minneapolis Lakers for two seasons before joining the NFL’s Eagles). Following two years with Philadelphia, Grant moved north to play for Winnipeg and became head coach at age 29 and, later, general manager. He had originally been offered the coaching job with the Vikings when the club was formed in 1961, but turned it down. His regular season record with the Blue Bombers was 102-56-2 and the team had gone 20-10-1 in the playoffs, winning two Grey Cup titles.

According to Vikings GM Jim Finks, Grant had signed a three-year contract. The Vikings had also considered Green Bay assistant coach Phil Bengtson and two other assistants with previous head coaching experience in the NFL, Nick Skorich of Cleveland and Bill McPeak of Detroit. But bringing Bud Grant back to the Twin Cities was their first choice, and this time he accepted the job.

The most significant question that Grant faced in preparing for the 1967 season was, who would play quarterback? The void left by the departed Tarkenton was a big one. There was Ron VanderKelen, star of the 1963 Rose Bowl for Wisconsin as well as that summer’s College All-Star game upset of the NFL champion Packers, who had been backing up – and occasionally competing with - Tarkenton for four years. The other prime contender was Bob Berry, a third-year pro out of Oregon who had thus far seen scant action. VanderKelen was more mobile, in the mold of the departed Tarkenton, while Berry was a classic drop-back passer with a better arm.

VanderKelen started the season and played abysmally. The Vikings lost their first four games. However, another product of the CFL, 29-year-old Joe Kapp, joined the club and took over as starting quarterback. What he lacked in passing ability, he made up for with fiery leadership.

At other positions, the club that Grant inherited was fundamentally sound and, while the Vikings went just 3-8-3 in ’67, the stage was set for significant improvement. HB Dave Osborn and FB Bill Brown ran for over 1500 yards and caught 56 passes between them. The offensive line was anchored by Pro Bowlers at center (Mick Tingelhoff) and tackle (Grady Alderman).

The Vikings would be known for their formidable defense during the Grant years, and the elements were coming together in that unit of 1967. The line, bolstered by the arrival of rookie DT Alan Page, contained ends Jim Marshall and Carl Eller and DT Paul Dickson. MLB Lonnie Warwick led a good unit, and cornerbacks Earsell Mackbee and Ed Sharockman and safeties Karl Kassulke and Dale Hackbart also worked well as a group.

While Gary Cuozzo was obtained for the 1968 season to provide an alternative at quarterback, it was still Kapp calling the signals as Minnesota went 8-6, won the NFL Central Division, and qualified for the postseason for the first time. Far more significant newcomers in ’68 were FS Paul Krause, obtained from the Redskins, and rookie OT Ron Yary. Second-year WR Gene Washington emerged to catch 46 passes for 756 yards and six touchdowns, although the club still ranked at the bottom of the league in passing. They were carried by the defense, which ranked fifth overall (better against the pass than the run). In winning the division in a mediocre year, they played clutch football when they most needed it, beating out the Bears by winning their last two games on the road.

The stage was set for a championship run in 1969. The Vikings lost their season-opening game against the Giants and didn’t lose again until the last game of the year. The 12-2 record was the best in the NFL, and Minnesota won the Western Conference title over the Rams before thrashing Cleveland for the NFL Championship. However, in the Super Bowl (the last pre-merger pairing of the champions of two leagues), they were beaten by the AFL’s Kansas City Chiefs. Still, it was an impressive season for Coach Grant, GM Finks (who assembled the talent), and the team. The conservative offense led the league in scoring with 379 points. The defense, now known as “The Purple Gang”, allowed the fewest points in the NFL and was recognized as an elite unit.

The merger with the AFL took effect in 1970, and the Vikings under Grant’s calm and unflappable approach dominated the NFC Central over the course of the decade, winning the division in 10 of the next 12 seasons, through 1980. Kapp was gone after ’69 due to a contract dispute, and while the club went a combined 23-5 in 1970 and ’71 with, primarily, Cuozzo at quarterback, it also faltered in the first round of the playoffs in both years. Fran Tarkenton returned to the team in 1972, and with an improved offense complementing the solid defense (and also making the most of the home advantage in cold weather), Minnesota went to the Super Bowl three times, following the ’73, ’74, and ’76 seasons, although coming up short of a league title in each instance.

The team made it to the postseason once more with Grant as head coach, following the strike-shortened 1982 season, and after an 8-8 showing in ’83, he retired. It proved to be a brief sojourn, however – following a disastrous 3-13 record under successor Les Steckel, Grant returned in 1985 to stabilize the situation before stepping aside for good.

Overall, Grant’s record in Minnesota in 18 seasons was 158-96-5 for a .622 winning percentage. The playoff tally was 10-12 and included one NFL title and three NFC championships. Including his years in Canada, his teams won 260 regular season games plus 30 postseason contests. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1994.

March 9, 2011

1977: Eagles Trade Charle Young to Rams for Ron Jaworski

On March 9, 1977 the Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Rams traded the negotiating rights to disgruntled players who had played out their options and were looking to change teams. Charle Young, well-established as a top pass receiving tight end in Philadelphia, was swapped for Ron Jaworski, caught in the glut at quarterback in LA.

Jaworski (pictured at right), just short of his 26th birthday, had been chosen by the Rams in the second round of the 1973 draft out of Youngstown State. He found himself competing for playing time with, first, John Hadl, and then James Harris and Pat Haden during his four years in Los Angeles. “The Polish Rifle” started a handful of games, including a NFC Divisional playoff game win over the Cardinals. Jaworski was injured in ’76, and dropped to the number three spot behind Haden and Harris as a result (Harris was also dealt away during the same offseason, while an over-the-hill Joe Namath was brought in).

The 6’2”, 195-pound quarterback refused a five-year, $700,000 offer to stay with the Rams, hoping for a better opportunity elsewhere. While he had entertained offers from other clubs (technically, he was a free agent), Eagles Head Coach Dick Vermeil assured Jaworski of an opportunity to start. Vermeil, having completed one season in Philadelphia, was not satisfied with holdover quarterbacks Mike Boryla, who suffered from inconsistency, and Roman Gabriel, once an outstanding player but now clearly on the downside of his career. He was familiar with Jaworski from when he was offensive backfield coach with the Rams in 1973.

“We are very excited about obtaining the rights to Ron Jaworski while at the same time
we are disappointed about having to give up the rights to Charle Young,” Vermeil said following the completion of the trade.

Charle Young had been an All-American at Southern California and was one of Philadelphia’s two first round draft picks in 1973 (the other was OT Jerry Sisemore). He had an immediate impact, catching 55 passes for 854 yards and receiving NFC Rookie of the Year honors from UPI as well as consensus first-team All-Pro recognition. It was the first of three straight Pro Bowl seasons as Young followed up with an NFC-leading 63 receptions for 696 yards in ’74 and 49 for 659 yards in 1975. However, the team went a combined 16-25-1, and Head Coach Mike McCormack was replaced by Vermeil. Young caught just 30 passes for 374 yards in 1976.

The 6’4”, 240-pound Young was as outspoken as he was talented – from the day he was drafted, he made clear that he considered himself to be an elite player. He also tinkered with his first name throughout his stay in Philadelphia, which evolved from Charles to Charlie, Charli, and Charle.

The contract negotiations with the Eagles were going badly, and it was apparent that the brash tight end was looking to move elsewhere. “I want to play for a warm weather franchise,” Young said. “I'd like to play on natural turf and I'd like to be with a contender.”

“Charles Young would give us an added dimension as both a wide receiver and tight end,” said Chuck Knox, head coach of the Rams, following the trade. “I coached him in the Pro Bowl and I'm delighted we've acquired the rights to a player of this quality.”

In going back to Los Angeles, his college town, Young was clearly getting his wishes granted. However, the result was not what he anticipated. The Rams were a run-oriented team, and Terry Nelson emerged to move ahead of Young on the depth chart. The former All-Pro caught just five passes in 1977, and a total of 36 in three seasons in LA.

Jaworski, meanwhile, developed along with the Eagles under Vermeil’s guidance. He passed for 2183 yards in 1977, completing 48 percent of his passes with 18 touchdowns and 21 interceptions for a club that went 5-9. In 1978, Jaws completed 51.8 percent of his throws for 2487 yards and broke even with 16 TDs and interceptions apiece. The Eagles were 9-7 and claimed a wild card spot for their first foray into the postseason since 1960. In ’79, Jaworski’s yardage total was 2669 and he had more touchdowns (18) than passes picked off (12) as Philadelphia improved to 11-5 and another wild card playoff berth. 1980 saw the Eagles win the NFC East with a 12-4 record and advance to the Super Bowl (a loss to the Raiders). Jaworski led the NFC in passing (91.0 rating) and threw for 3529 yards with 27 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He was selected to the Pro Bowl and received the Bert Bell Trophy from the Maxwell Club as NFL MVP.

Things did get better for Young – and worse for Jaworski. Young moved on to the San Francisco 49ers in 1980 and again became a starting tight end. He caught 37 passes for 400 yards and five TDs during the 1981 season that culminated in a championship. He played the last three years of his career for the Seahawks (1983-85) and ended up with a career total of 418 catches for 5106 yards and 27 touchdowns. While he never achieved All-Pro or Pro Bowl recognition after leaving Philadelphia, he was a serviceable player who contributed to a Super Bowl championship.

The Eagles went out in the first round of the playoffs in 1981 and dropped to 3-6 during the strike-shortened ’82 season, after which Vermeil resigned. The team slid back into mediocrity, with organizational problems aiding the descent.

Jaworski stayed with Philadelphia through the 1986 season, when he finally was forced to give way to Randall Cunningham. Tough and durable, he started every game of his first seven years in Philadelphia until sidelined by a broken leg suffered 13 games into the ’84 season. By the time “The Polish Rifle” left, to finish his career with a year apiece in Miami and Kansas City, he had set team career passing records that would not be broken until Donovan McNabb’s tenure at quarterback, including attempts (3918), completions (2088), yards (26,963), and touchdowns (175).